Lord of the Keep

Virtual Heaven

Virtual Desire by Ann Lawrence
(Love Spell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-505-52393-0
Gwen Marlowe, the co-owner of an arcade, is preparing for a busy weekend thanks to a Tolemac Wars convention taking place in nearby Atlantic City. Tolemac Wars is the biggest virtual reality game Gwen's arcade has ever had. In fact, grown women begin lining up early in the morning just to get a glimpse of Vad, the game's hero, while playing Tolemac Wars.

When Gwen finds a wet and smelly Vad sleeping next to the video game one morning, she naturally assumes he's the actor that an agency was sending to play Vad at her Tolemac Wars costume ball that evening. She also assumes he's really taking his role seriously when he "pretends" not to know what modern things are, such as cars. She tells him to shower and change in her apartment above the arcade, but things get messy when Gwen finds his large knife and Neil, her business partner, thinks Vad's attacking her and calls the police.

The cop who shows up is none other than R. Walter Gordon (or Rwalter, as Vad calls him), Gwen's ex-fiancé and current brother-in-law whom she hasn't spoken to since he married her sister ten years earlier.

Gwen is determined to have this lookalike at her ball and lets Walter think she and Vad are an item. Even if it means that her estranged family will assume she's sleeping with Vad. Eventually she gets Vad cleaned-up and to the ball, where he's of course a huge hit with all of the women. This is the point in the story when too many details begin to bog down the storyline.

Gwen sees Vad speaking with Kered, her best friend's husband and the main couple from Virtual Heaven, an earlier book by Ann Lawrence. Vad had mentioned needing to speak with Kered, but Gwen didn't believe that they knew one another. In fact, Vad had been sent on a quest to find and return Kered to Tolemac, along with a knife that had a treasure map hidden in it. Kered refuses to return with Vad and Gwen later reveals that Maggie, Gwen's best friend, gave her the knife for safekeeping. Gwen gives the knife to Vad, who promptly returns to the arcade to try and return to his world. He succeeds, but mistakenly takes Gwen with him. Now it's up to Vad to protect Gwen and complete his mission before it's too late. Do you see what I mean about too many details?

One particularly frustrating aspect was the introduction of so many characters, with little follow-through. It seemed like Gwen and Vad met so many people throughout the story, but they never returned to those characters or explained what happened to them. As a result, many storylines were left incomplete.

I also didn't particularly care for many of the characters within the book. Granted, Vad's world of chauvinism and segregation may have added to this feeling, but another reason for this dislike may have stemmed from some of the people who arbitrarily appeared when it was convenient to the story. In particular, the “bad guy” appeared half way through the story as a newly introduced character, but was treated as if the reader should know who he was. Perhaps this character had been previously introduced in the first novel of this series, but I wasn’t familiar with him until Gwen’s character gave the reader additional background.

Vad’s attitude towards women in general was also irksome at times. According to the hierarchy in his world, women are only tolerated for taking care of men and sex, which comes across in his early dealings with Gwen. However, by the end of their adventure they had become equals. It’s a nice thought, but I doubt Vad’s strong beliefs could so permanently be altered. I understand that this attitude and other clues, such as place and character names, were used to show that Tolemac (Camelot spelled backwards) is the mirror image of reality, and thus everything is backwards. However, at times the story came across as juvenile and fairly insulting to readers.

In the end, fans of Ann Lawrence’s previous work might enjoy this latest book. As for myself, the story’s flaws were exposed through weak characterizations and too many details for most readers to enjoy the book.

--Kristy Hales

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